Monday 2 November 2015

The 'guilt' feeling isn't what you might think it is

Part of the vicious circle I described in my last post is 'guilt'. But not the kind of 'guilt' you might expect. I don't feel guilt at 'causing' the eating disorder because, as modern evidence is proving, mothers don't 'cause' their child's eating disorder - eating disorders are thought to be a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers (in my son's case it was trying to get a fantastic six-pack physique without doing as much sport, while eating less). No, the feeling of guilt that is very much part of the vicious circle of emotions I'm feeling at the moment is very different.

Here's something based on what I wrote in my diary app the other day:


Irrational guilt, of course, because I know parents aren't to blame for their child's eating disorder.

Parents didn't 'cause' their child's eating disorder and families can't help their genetic makeup. We couldn't control any external circumstances that may have triggered our son's or daughter's eating disorder.

We can't be held responsible for not identifying what was happening to our son or daughter as they began to get sick. This is especially the case for parents of boys. When my son fell sick with anorexia there wasn't the awareness that there is these days that boys get eating disorders too. We had no idea what was wrong with our son. So there can be no guilt attached there.

As a family, we didn't know what help was available through our British NHS. Our GP didn't tell us about CAMHS: Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. And we assumed that what he was advising (i.e. wait and see what happens x a number of visits to the GP) was the right advice. So we can't feel guilt here, either.

We can't have known that it wasn't normal for our son to have to wait up to six months for treatment and that he should have been fast-tracked through the System. We can't have known that our GPs' surgery was unhelpful (to say the least) in saying that we'd just have to wait.

We can't have known just how serious eating disorders can be. At this early stage we knew very little about anorexia. Especially in boys. We can't have known that not all medical and mental health professionals are trained in modern evidence-based treatment and whether the treatment our son eventually received for his anorexia was right or wrong.

We can't have known any of this. And while we were battling with the very worst - with our son, with the highly resistant eating disorder, with GPs, with CAMHS, etc - we were also having to undertake the biggest learning curve of our lives. Bigger than anything we ever learned at school or university. And we had to learn URGENTLY because it quickly became clear that what our son was descending into could be a matter of life or death.

Yet, irrationally, I feel guilty for so much of the above. Probably the least irrational is guilt at the fact I should have pushed harder: pushed for the GP to send off a referral, pushed for that referral to be expedited as urgent, pushed for an urgent appointment with CAMHS, pushed for evidence-based treatment every time I winced at what was being said or done in front of my son... stuff that could be potentially damaging and which often contradicted the information I was reading and learning about in terms of evidence-based treatment for eating disorders at that time.

I should have pushed more, been more forceful, 'chained myself to the railings' and so on...

This is the guilt I feel.

Because if I had pushed, then maybe my son would have recovered faster. And he wouldn't have had to go through all the darkness he went through during the first 12-18 months of treatment as his weight continued to drop, along with his mood and behaviour.

... which leads me to feelings of self-compassion, of wanting to hug the person I was back then and tell myself that it's OK, I couldn't have known any of this.

And even when I had educated myself on everything to do with eating disorders and modern evidence-based treatment, I was just too traumatised and exhausted from fighting my son and his eating disorder, day in, day out, for so many, many months.

At the time, I fought as much as I could - to the limits of my strength.

So I mustn't feel guilty, and instead give myself some loving, knowledgeable support.

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